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Long live the King hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King s On Writing Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have King s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near fatal accident inand how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told back cover Like the curate s egg, this is good in parts I can see why writers, and budding writers find this book inspirational, and fans of his oeuvre will enjoy learning how certain stories came to be But it s several very different books and booklets, within a single set of covers curious that a book about writing doesn t seem to know what sort of a book it is.In one of the three forewords, King says Most books about writing are filled with bullshit I found a fair bit here, too But I also found Like the curate s egg, this is good in parts I can see why writers, and budding writers find this book inspirational, and fans of his oeuvre will enjoy learning how certain stories came to be But it s several very different books and booklets, within a single set of covers curious that a book about writing doesn t seem to know what sort of a book it is.In one of the three forewords, King says Most books about writing are filled with bullshit I found a fair bit here, too But I also found good things, including a passionate passage about books being a sort of telepathy, culminating with the delicious Books are a uniquely portable magic This book isn t about how to write in general, it s about how to write like Stephen King, and for that, it may be excellent.1 C.V 4 memoir, 118 pages, or 33% of the book This is a charming scattering of snapshots of King s childhood, and snippets of adulthood and advice the CV of how one writer was formed I enjoyed a peek into ordinary 1950s small town USA He points out that he is one of the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit He was 11 when the family got their first TV He missed most of first grade because of ear related health problems, so retreated into comic books and writing stories in a similar vein His mother always encouraged him, and the importance of encouragement is the strongest message of the book Conversely, a teacher criticised him for wasting his talent writing junk, and King remained ashamed of what he wrote until his forties The junk was a novelisation of the film of The Pit and the Pendulum, which he d been selling at school unaware that it was originally a short story by Poe His wife, Tabitha, also gets much credit her belief in his ability and her consequent encouragement, even when they could barely pay the bills They have much in common, but What ties us most strongly are the words, the language, and the work of our lives The other key message is that there is no repository of great story ideas They come from nowhere The writer has to spot, recognise, and polish them, and King gives examples of how he came upon the seeds of many of his stories King points out that even the author s perception of his characters may be wrong I don t disagree, and it may be related to his not realising that he was writing about himself when he penned Jack, in The Shining But in a foreword, he makes aextreme generalisation, The editor is always right An interesting case study is to compare Raymond Carver s short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, in their originally published and heavily edited form with his originals, now published under the title Beginners Sometimes I think the editor was right, but in several cases, I prefer Carver s version I ve explored the differences a little in my reviews HERE and HERE, respectively.2 Toolbox 1 grammar etc, 34 pages Writing is seduction Not necessarily Reading this short section, the only thing that prevented me from throwing the book across the room was that it was borrowed from a friend It does what most prescriptive guides do conflates stylistic preference with grammatical rules, and makes sweeping generalisations such as the best form of dialogue attribution is said , largely ignoring the paramount importance of context and audience It s easy to teach and test rules, but serious writers need to cultivate an intuitive feel for language in a variety of styles, rather than being bogged down analysing parts of speech.King taught grammar, but gives examples of Tom Swifties that aren t, and keeps talking about the passive tense , though later correctly says passive voice He decries it, using ludicrous, unidiomatic examples My first kiss will always be recalled by me He decries adverbs by using a convoluted passive they seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind and an adverb saying writers use them when not expressing themselves clearly , and says both passives and adverbs are the resort of timid writers He claims, The road to hell is paved with adverbs One is OK, but they re like dandelions prone to multiply In section 3, he berates pronouns too, using a pronoun I hate and mistrust pronouns, every one of them as slippery as a fly by night personal injury lawyerWhy Strunk and White s in famous rule 17, Omit needless words , is lauded It s hard to disagree with, but it s no help with discerning which words might be needless.King says this section is short because readers probably know enough grammar already, but he then agrees with Strunk and White, that if readers don t, It s too late So much for encouraging timid writers And yet many find this book helpful I m pleased for them, but a little surprised There are some good points He stresses the importance of an extensive vocabulary, and says it should be acquired through reading widely, rather than conscious effort He describes paragraphs as maps of intent and the basic unit of writing rather than sentences And there is a nod to context, negating much of what precedes it, Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace up shoes Amen to that.3 On Writing 3 how he writes, 143 pages, or 40% And suddenly it s back to memoir ish, but with focus on the process of writing, and a smattering of prescriptive absolutes and empty homilies alongside fascinating insights and ideas King promises Everything I know about how to write good fiction , along with encouragement, but with the caveat that you can t make a bad writer a competent one, or a good writer great, but you can make a competent writer good, as long as they master the basics in the previous section vocabulary, grammar, and style King stresses the importance and joy of reading, in all and any situations, developing an ease and intimacy with the process of writing But for writing itself, he says you need good health though poor health was what got him started, and he was successful when a heavy drinking alcoholic , a stable relationship don t many great writers emerge from the opposite , strict routine, and your own space no distractions, and a door to close Put your desk in the corner Life isn t a support system for art It s the other way round Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme Starting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction The ideas about story and plot were fascinating and liberating in stark contrast with the straitjacket of the previous section You need a concrete goal, but Don t wait for the muse andWrite what you know He lists only three components of a story narrative, description, and dialogue Don t worry about plot because our lives are plotless Stories are found things, like fossils and the writer has to give them somewhere to grow fossils growing , thus My books tend to be based on situation rather than story The situation comes first The characters come next Then there s narration, and he lets the characters figure things out not always as he expected Ultimately, The story should always be the boss The story, not the plot Plot is the good writer s last resort and the dullard s first choice And There s a huge difference between story and plot Story is honorable and trustworthy plot is shifty and best kept under house arrest Huh Fortunately, Bryce came to the rescue in the second comment on her review here Plot is a series of events But story is about the motivations behind those events Her example is that plot is The king died and then the queen died The story is The king died and then the queen died of grief When you ve finished the first draft which you should never show anyone else for comment , you have to step back, to see the wood for the trees, and figure out what the book is about Work on a second draft, then take a break and let someone else review that Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story , but you must beware of over describing Description begins in the writer s imagination, but should finish in the reader s That sounds wise and wonderful, but I m unsure how to apply it Still less, The use of simile and other figurative language is one of the chief delights of fiction , when you re supposed to be hunting down adverbs, pronouns and other allegedly needless words It s not about the setting it s always about the story Absolutely always I think not So many of my favourite works of fiction are about the setting that I have shelves called Landscape Protagonist and Sea, Islands, Coast One of the cardinal rules of good fiction is never to tell us a thing if you can show us Never Again, it s the absolutism I object to And then relax Try any goddam thing you like If it works, fine If it doesn t toss it Toss it even if you love it Hooray 4 On Living 3 surviving a life threatening accident, 22 pages This is a moving addition to recent editions and briefer versions have been published separately King writes of when he was out walking in 1999 and was hit by a driver who could have been from one of his books It recounts his serious injuries, multiple operations, and slow recovery Writing didn t save my live but it makes my life a brighterpleasant place 5 And Further 3 annotated example of first and second drafts This has a very short story that King invites readers to edit It is followed by an annotated version, with explanations of the suggestions Most of them are cuts back to Omit needless words King reckons editing should trim at least 10% The other key thing is follow through, If there s a gun on the mantel in Act I, it must go off in Act III , otherwise it will be either pointless or a deus ex machina See Checkov s Gun.6 Booklists 3 books to read, mostly fiction There are two fiction booklists, mostly novels, but a few short story collections It s a varied mix of classics and modern, highbrow and less so King s first main list Notes I tried to read this with an open mind I was bored by the only other King I ve read The Shining, my review HERE , and I generally abhor the narrow prescriptivism of How to write guides Most of it defied my fears except for the grammar stylistic advice But what do I know I m not a published author, let alone one as successful as Stephen King For a strident critique of Strunk and White s Elements of Style beloved of many US students and largely unknown in the UK , see Prof Geoff Pullum on Elements of Style.Image source for classic Punch cartoon, The Curate s egg Writing isn t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends In the end, it s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well It s about getting up, getting well, and getting over Getting happy okay Getting happy I can t tell you how many people I ve talked to over my lifetime who wanted to write a book Most didn t know what they wanted to write about, but some of them wanted to write their autobiography Writing isn t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends In the end, it s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well It s about getting up, getting well, and getting over Getting happy okay Getting happy I can t tell you how many people I ve talked to over my lifetime who wanted to write a book Most didn t know what they wanted to write about, but some of them wanted to write their autobiography because their life had been so thrilling I think my life has been reasonably boring, and it usually turns out that my life has been ten timesexciting than theirs When situations like this happen to me, it is usually mildly amusing, but it can quickly turn to sneering when the person reveals to me that they don t have time to read or don t really like to read Don t talk to me about writing a book if you don t read Don t talk to me about NOT having time to read What does Stephen King have to say about this If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others read a lot and write a lot There s no way around those two things Now, why would someone not want to read Maybe it depends on when they were born But TV came relatively late to the King household, and I m glad I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit Now someone needs to wrap me in cellophane and stand me up in a museum because I m probably one of the youngest members of that elite group I grew up on a farm in the middle of bumfrilling Kansas, where a twenty foot antenna could only pull in three TV channels and one of those channels rolled most of the time TV had no real impact on my life until I left home at the age of 18 and moved to Phoenix Thank Zeus Now I have young, wannabe writers writing me from all over the world, sending me links to hilarious YouTube videos, or they talk to me about binging all weekend on a Netflix show They are completely enad with spoon fed entertainment, and what they find funny is to me like paddling around in the kiddy pool of humor in the book world I wonder why I m so grumpy A novel likeThe Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old fashioned jealousy I ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher I can t tell you how many times I ve felt that way Whenever I read a wonderful book like The Great Gatsby or meet a character like Atticus Finch, I fall on my bed and stare at the ceiling and think why am I harboring any thoughts that I can write a novel My problem, of course, is that I don t want to just write a novel I want to write a fantastic novel I don t want to just entertain people I want them to feel the socks ripped off their feet and have them floating around in the air around their head when they read my novel Stephen King will go into a time when he was struggling with alcohol and using drugs, or should I say abusing drugs He will tell you all about the accident that nearly ended his life, which happened while he was writing this book He will talk about trials and tribulations He will recommend books There is a whole list of modern books in the back of this book that impressed the hell out of him and impacted his writing The point is, of course, that even though he is probably the most famous writer on the planet, he is still learning, still enjoying reading, and still writing every day I take a book everywhere I go I take a book with me to work every day and read a page or two while my computer is booting up I have a book with me all the time because I never know when I will be sitting in road work or waiting on a doctor or gleefully reading, in the glow of my flashlight beam on the pages of my book, waiting for the power to come back on at work I live to read I live to write I fornicate somewhere in the middle This has been one of the most inspiring books about writing I ve ever read King talked about examples of the work ethics of writers, but the one that resonated with me the most was Anthony Trollope He used to write, EXACTLY, for two and half hours every day before going to the post office If his writing time was up, he would stop in the middle of a sentence and head to work If he finished a novel fifteen minutes before his time was up, he wrote THE END and started immediately into his next novel It brought tears to my eyes because that is what it means to be a writerdedication to the craft If you want to get rich, go be a frilling stock broker If you want to write, then turn the squawk box off and search for those buried fossils in the words swimming around in your head King calls good ideas fossils For me writing islike when Michelangelo used to lay his head on a block of marble and listened to the voices in the stone that wanted to be freed All you have to do is chisel those characters free, and give them life If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at A 87% Extraordinary NotesThe first novel length book I d ever finished over the span of one day Done over two sittings, with a nap in between. Let s be honest Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel he might win a Newberry though, if he ever decides to tap into the Kids Young Adult market , and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review, the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain, knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates None of this should suggest, however, that King is not qualified to write a Let s be honest Stephen King is not one of the greatest writers of all time He will never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel he might win a Newberry though, if he ever decides to tap into the Kids Young Adult market , and on the few times his books are featured in the New York Times Book Review, the reviewer will treat the book with a sort of haughty disdain, knowing their time could be better spent trashing Joyce Carol Oates None of this should suggest, however, that King is not qualified to write a book about how to write Sure, he churns out pulpy horror stories that are proudly displayed in airport bookstores, but the man knows how to write a good story, and he s probably one of the most well known, non dead American authors in the world So he must be doing something right I m not the biggest fan of King s books, but I really enjoyed On Writing He talks about writing frankly and practically, mixing tried and true pieces of advice fear the adverb, never write replied remarked muttered yelled etc when you can write said , and don t be afraid to kill off your favorite character with anecdotes about how some of his books came about I especially liked the story behind Carrie King was working as a janitor at a high school, and one night he was cleaning the girls locker room He asked the other janitor what that little metal dispenser box on the wall was, and the other man replied that it was for pussy pluggers At the same time, King had been reading about how psychic abilities often manifest in girls just beginning to go through puberty He combined the two ideas and wrote out a couple pages that would turn into the opening of Carrie if you haven t read it you should Many thanks to King s wife, who rescued the pages from the wastebasket after King first decided that the idea was stupid and threw them away So, in conclusion even if you aren t a fan of Stephen King s work, he has some very good advice about writing and storytelling, plus some good stories of his own Sure, you can call him a sellout But I like him Also, he once said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer can t write worth a darn You stay classy, Mr King